Understanding Physics to Individualize Training

Written by: Kevin Cann

We seem to be in a fad of “evidence based” coaching right now.  I also see a lot of coaches touting that they follow general principles in their programs, but when you see their programs there is a definite misunderstanding of those general principles of strength training.

Training needs to be individualized for sure, but this pendulum has also swung a bit too far into the direction of over-individualization.  Small adjustments in the technical execution of the lift and small adjustments within the training program are all that is really needed.  Two different lifters do not need wildly different programs.   

One way that we can apply science and general principles to individualize is training is to actually understand those basic concepts.  One of these concepts is work.  Work is defined as the amount of energy used to move something. 

The equation for work is work = force x distance.  Force is equal to mass x acceleration so work can also be written out as work = (mass x acceleration) x distance.  So basically a large mass or large acceleration over larger distance will be much more work than the opposite.  This we all understand I believe.

We can utilize this equation to keep work high but changing the other variables to meet individual needs.  We can change the weight of the bar, how fast we move it, or how far we move it to adjust.

One easy way to increase work is to just increase the weight.  We utilize the max effort method in our training, but many programs do not.  The max effort method is king to all other training methods to improve absolute strength.

It is sport specific training to powerlifting, but it also trains the mind to handle heavier weights.  Often lifters are scared with heavier weights and it limits performance.  Over time of training this method in the gym, the lifter is no longer scared and has developed the physiological skills to strain against a heavy object for one repetition.  It also works on technical abilities under those maximal weights.

We can leave the mass and distance the same but increase the acceleration.  This is more than just telling someone to move faster.  This is where bands and chains can come into the equation.

If I am squatting 500lbs of straight weight, I can use bands to instead take up a portion of the load. Determining how much band tension to use is based off of what strength quality we want to train.  For speed strength (moving a lighter load more quickly), Louie recommends about 33% of the weight being band tension.  For 500lbs this means about 165lbs of band tension and 335lbs of bar weight.  

Powerlifting is a strength speed sport.  This is large loads moving slowly.  Sheiko explained this to me by using an analogy with weightlifting.  He said weightlifting is fast power (speed strength), and powerlifting is slow power (strength speed).  Both sports need to train both qualities.  

To develop strength speed, Louie recommends that at least half of the weight on the bar be bans.  For 500lbs, this means at least 250lbs of band tension.  The acceleration of each of these examples will differ.

I have found that deloading certain positions within the lifts can help for recovery.  These positions tend to be where we are at biomechanical deficiencies.  The bottom portion of the squat and bench are examples.  The deadlift we tend to be weakest just below the knees but putting the weight on blocks cuts down the distance substantially and decreases the overall work by quite a bit.  This may be why blocks are a bit easier to recover from.  Deloading the bottom position of the deadlift seemed to help as well.

Bands allow us to deload these biomechanically deficient positions, but keeping the load similar, the strain similar, and the work similar.  This is. Great tool to keep the athlete training hard, but to also keep them healthy.

The coach definitely needs to make sure that they are still loading the bottom portions of the lift with adequate loads.  I think this is usually a catastrophic mistake made by a lot of coaches that utilize bands in their programs.  Make sure you are getting enough straight weight in your training.

If certain positions hurt within the lifts, as every powerlifter will experience pain.  We can manipulate the ROM to fit something without pain, and just increase the mass or acceleration of the lift to keep work high.  High box squats are an easy exercise to recover from and they can be easily overloaded.  The original Westside Barbell in Culver City figured this out in the 1960s.

Absolute loads also matter for recovery.  If we increase the distance of the lift, we can decrease the weight on the bar to keep work the exact same.  Most people will not lift as much from a low box, or deficit deadlift as they do from the standard ROM.  The coach can then decide to adjust the acceleration at their own discretion.  

Sheiko believed that load variability was one of the most important aspects of training.  This means the alternating of high, medium, and low stress days which I have explained in other articles.  This also means load variability within each training day.  

As a coach we want to manipulate the work of the lifter to fit what we are looking for in each training day.  If I want enough work to develop strength, it needs to be high enough.  If I want enough work to maintain strength, it does not need to be quite so high, and a lower workload for the day is for recovery.

I think many times when coaches use variations in their programs, they miss this concept and leads to an ineffective plan.  A positive of a Westside program is that it manipulates mass with max effort and acceleration with dynamic effort.  You can almost get within these ranges by accident.

We do not run Westside programs.  We have some different things that we do to accommodate the different lifters that we have when we compare them to the lifters at Westside.  There are also some changes that need to be made for raw lifters.

We can individualize this process by varying the work within the program.  We get high work days, medium work days, and low work days.  The greater the well-being of the lifter, the higher days they get.  Some lifters are genetically better at recovering, and others are more prone to experiencing pain.  This is how we navigate that complexity.

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